Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Strength and Spirituality of Segmented Sleep

Our God is a wonderfully diverse Creator. If each snowflake looks different under the microscope, then one would expect each human being to have unique characteristics as well. It's one of the reasons one must always be careful with generalizations of human character or actions. Each of us is different and unique, a masterpiece of God's creation.

Yet, there are some common characteristics of all humans. We all breath, we all eat, we all sleep. Much of life's journey is walking a path of learning how to relax, eat well, and sleep well. Unfortunately, modern science seems to have ignored ancient data that indicates the best way to sleep at night is in segments, a process called segmented sleep.

Segmented sleep, described more fully, is a pattern of sleeping where two or more periods of sleep are punctuated by periods of wakefulness. Historian Roger Ekirch has written a fascinating book entitled At Days Close: Night in Times Past. Dr. Ekirch's seminal research into the matter shows how people for millennia slept in segmented patterns. Most humans went to bed a couple of hours after dusk (8:00 p.m.), slept for four hours (till midnight), then awoke for two to three hours where some of their most productive mental work took place. It was during this waking segment of the night that people would  pray, interpret dreams, meditate, and plan for the future. Then, people would go back to sleep around 2:00 or 3:00 am and sleep till sunrise.

In ancient literature the first period of sleeping before midnight was called "the first sleep" and the second period of sleeping after midnight was called "the second sleep."  This pattern of segmented sleep was universal. Dr. Ekirch writes:
"It's not just the number of references to segmented sleep (that is astonishing) - it is the way they refer to it, as if it was common knowledge."
There seems to be biblical evidence of segmented sleep:
"At midnight I arise to give you thanks for your righteous laws" (Psalm 119:62)
"About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them" (Acts 16:25).
"But Samson lay till midnight, and at midnight he arose and took hold of the doors of the gate of the city and the two posts, and pulled them up, bar and all, and put them on his shoulders and carried them to the top of the hill" (Judges 16:3).
"At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and behold, a woman lay at his feet!" (Ruth 3:8) 
"Stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning" (Mark 13:35).
Psychologist Greg Jacobs says that waking up during the night is part of "normal human physiology." The website Slumber Wise says "the ideal time for study and contemplation" for the people of the past was between first sleep and second sleep. Chaucer tells of a character in the Canterbury Tales that goes to bed following her “firste sleep.” Interestingly, Slumber Wise also records that a doctor of the 1500's once explained why working class people conceived more children saying, "Working people typically have sex after their first sleep."

The modern idea that good sleep is always eight or more hours of uninterrupted sleep is a recent belief. Good sleep, according to Dr. Jacobs, is segmented sleep. The brain exhibits high levels of the pituitary hormone called prolactin during periods of nighttime wakefulness. The lessening of anxiety, the feelings of peace, and the relaxed state of one's mind tend to make the waking time between sleeps the most creative time for many people.

Those of us accustomed to electrical light often wake up at night and find ourselves anxious, believing something is wrong with us because we can't sleep.  As a result, we do not get the benefit of segmented sleep because nobody told sleeping in segments is healthy. In fact, we've been told all our lives that it is not healthy to sleep in segments.

Not so. It seems that waking up and spending an hour or two in mental exercise before going back to sleep might be the healthiest way to sleep. Of course, this pattern of sleeping would require an earlier bedtime than what most Americans currently have.

If you can get to bed at an early hour (the evening news), and if you awake up after about four hours of sleep, don't get anxious. Science (and Scripture?) seem to indicate that the "between the sleeps time"  is a very important part of life. Use that time to think, pray and even meditate. Feel free to get up and move around and do something productive, or if it is more suitable, lay in bed and engage your mind and soul in thought and prayer.  There are numerous prayer journals from the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries that show God's people offered special prayers during the hours between sleeps.

I have a friend who practices segmented sleep. He tells me often that some of his most productive times are between sleeps during the night. Often he will Skype with friends from around the world during those one or two waking hours. Segmented sleep may not be for everyone, but if you are curious about it, I would highly recommend you read At Days Close: Night in Times Past.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Pain of Ignoring Paine: The Loss of American Freedom

American society is in trouble.

To some, that statement will be too nebulous and unclear, so let it be restated with greater specificity and deeper clarity. If you are an American, your customary way of living is ending.

The United States federal government has taken on the unauthorized role of provider for the American people. Big government's goal is that nobody be in need. American society is now enslaved to a government that is ensuring that this goal is met. Government has become America's god, and American society is no longer free.

In a free society necessity is the mother of invention, but in an enslaved society, necessity marries politicians and their offspring are indolence and dependence.

Financial equality is the myth of a crumbling society. The myth makers (politicians) may have good intentions, but their principles are wrong. When government takes upon itself the stated goal of income equality by ensuring everyone has a house, everyone has health care, everyone has financial hope, everyone is as comfortable and financially secure as their neighbor, the myth makers forcibly and artificially reverse the common sense roles of society and government.

The Common Sense of Thomas Paine

American colonists experienced the pain of big government in the 1760's and 1770's when England's dictatorial monarchy demanded American colonists be taxed in order to support the needs of the people of England. Many Americans were ambivalent to the idea of revolting against their government until a fellow by the name of Thomas Paine wrote and published a little pamphlet called Common Sense in 1776. George Washington wrote to a friend and said, "I find that Common Sense is working a powerful change in the minds of many..." 

Thomas Paine showed Americans the difference between society and government, and encouraged the reader never to confuse the two. He wrote:
"SOME writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins."
So too, today, many Americans have little understanding of the differences between society and government. Government is not society, nor is society the government.  Unfortunately, convoluting and confusing the two is a source of enormous pain. Paine gives a few of the differences between society and government:
"Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness POSITIVELY by uniting our affections, the latter NEGATIVELY by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher."
Catch what Paine is saying. Government is not intended to be the provider of wants; rather, government is always intended to be the punisher of the evil doer in society. Society is designed to be the provider, supporter and contributor to the wants of the individual. Paine next tells a story of a few isolated people living in a far away wilderness without government. Paine explains that the people find it easier to live together rather than apart; thus, a society is created. As this society grows, however, problems arise because of the wickedness within individuals. The society meets to make regulations in order to mitigate the problems. As the society continues to grow, a government becomes necessary to enforce these regulations, which in time become laws. Soon, there are so many people within the society that they cannot all gather in one place to make the laws, so they begin holding elections. This process, Paine argues, is the best balance between government and society. Society is responsible for the wants of people, government is responsible for the punishment of evil doers within society. This, according to Paine, is common sense. Paine summarizes his views on the limitations of government with these words:
"Here then is the origin and rise of government; namely, a mode rendered necessary by the inability of moral virtue to govern the world; here too is the design and end of government, viz. Freedom and security. And however our eyes may be dazzled with show, or our ears deceived by sound; however prejudice may warp our wills, or interest darken our understanding, the simple voice of nature and reason will say, 'tis right.
The term "big government" is too innocuous. Just because something is big doesn't mean it's bad. Big government, however, is worse than bad; it's evil. When government ascends to society's god, the plea of its citizens becomes, "Give us this day our daily bread."  Government assumes the role of supplier and provider for bread, capital, health care, and other needs of its citizens to ensure fairness and equality.

When this happens, a free society comes to an end. People are enslaved to the government's idea of equity. What most Americans don't realize is the cost of forced equity is personal liberty. In America where government has become god, you will find you cannot worship as you please; you cannot work as you please; you cannot save as you please; you cannot give as you please; you cannot live as you please. Everything about your life as an American is becoming controlled by the god of American government.

This is why your life is changing as an American. You are no longer free. You are no longer secure. Government has usurped the role of society.

We are now experiencing the pain of ignoring Paine.

Friday, December 27, 2013

52 Years, 52 Times - A Birthday Soliloquy

Today is my 52 birthday. 52 years. Last night I went to bed early, but I stayed awake doing numbers, dates and events in my head. I may be the only person in the world who does this type of thing, but its a fun form of mental exercise.

I went back 52 years, 52 times.

Starting with this year, 2013, I went back 52 years to 1961 and thought of the inauguration of the President John F. Kennedy, the youngest man to have been elected President of the United States at that time. I went back another 52 years to 1909, two years before the birth of my maternal grandfather, and thought about Oklahoma being a state for only two years, and how in 1909 Guthrie was the state's capital (not Oklahoma City). It was also the first year three people flew in an airplane at the same time. We've come a long way in a little over a century.

The third 52 years took me to the year 1857, four years before the Civil War. My great-great-grandfather, Dr. Frederick Tinsley Donne Cherry--then a teenager--moved with his family from Rochester, New York to just north of Nashville, Tennessee. It was a fateful move because he would later be drafted into the Confederate States Army of Tennessee, be captured during the Civil War, and spend a terrible year in the notorious Rock Island Prison. Later he would enter the University of Nashville Medical School (now Vanderbilt) and become a medical doctor.

The fourth 52 years took me to 1805 and the most important year for the Lewis and Clark Expedition, the greatest adventure in the history of the American frontier. The story of Lewis and Clark is one of the most overlooked narratives of American history. The expedition had direct impact on Oklahoma. Back another 52 years (the fifth) took me to the year 1753, George Washington was a mere 22 years old and the American colonies had not yet considered independence from England.

I kept going! On the occasions I became stuck thinking about an event for that 52nd year, I pulled out my handy Samsung Note 3 and typed in the year and "Presto" - I had a major event pop-up with which I was familiar. It was fun - going back in history to specific dates, separated by 52 years.

52 years, 52 times - that takes you back 2704 years. Frankly, counting something fifty-four times goes fast, and by the time I fell asleep, I had gone back in time to 691 BC. The northern kingdom of Israel had already fallen to the Assyrians. The southern kingdom of Judah, with headquarters in Jerusalem, had stopped the Assyrian advancement. 691 BC was over fifty years before the birth of the prophet Daniel.

Working from the other end of  the 52 times back and moving forward you have the year 639 BC when "good king" Josiah led the southern kingdom of Judah into a time of revival. 52 more years forward brings one to the year 587 BC when Jerusalem fell to Nebuchadnezzar and the rest of the Jews were led into what was called the Babylonian captivity. 52 years later, in 535 BC Cyrus the Great rule the world as king over the Persian Empire, having defeated the Babylonian Empire. Cyrus would be quite influential in helping the Jews to rebuild Jerusalem, and the Temple.

As I targeted specific dates 52 years apart, I went through the rise of the Grecian Empire and Alexander the Great, the rise of the Roman Empire, and finally to the times of Christ. At 15 BC, 39 times 52 years way from 2013, Augustus Caesar ruled the known world. God was preparing the world for the Messiah's birth which would occur a decade later. The next 52 year interval took me to AD 37, to the time when the former Pharisee called Saul of Tarsus had been radically changed by the risen Messiah and was now being disciple in the Christian faith in preparation for his first of three missionary journeys.

Oh well, my wife is tapping me on my shoulder reminding me we need to be off to see our grandson today in the city! I must stop this soliloquy.  By definition it is written only for me.  Thank you Lord, for orchestrating the events of this world, overcoming the evil of mankind and directly intervening with Your grace in my life.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Our Grand Oasis in the Vastness of Space

45 years ago, Christmas Eve 1968, the 20th century's most iconic photograph was snapped through the coordinated efforts of three astronauts who were surprised by an unexpected earth rise as they orbited the moon. The story of that picture is documented in the six minute video below, and I can't think of a better way to wish the readers of Istoria Merry Christmas than to remind us all that this grand oasis of ours is by design and it is our Designer's coming to earth that we celebrate today.

Monday, December 23, 2013

He Is The King With No Bling

Muslim Jihadists in Indonesia
Our Christmas series at Emmanuel is entitled Celebrating the King and is based upon the dialogue between Jesus and Pilate just days before Christ's crucifixion (John 18:33-38). On trial in Jerusalem before the Roman governor Pilate, Jesus makes five startling statements in response to Pilate's question, "So you are a King?"

1). "You say correctly that I am King" - 2). "For this reason (to be King) I was born" -  3). "For this (to be King) I have come into the world" -  4). "I have come to testify of the truth (that I am King)" -  5). "Everyone who is of the truth (in my Kingdom) hears My voice." All five of these statements of Jesus are found in John 18:37.

I would have loved to have seen Pilate's facial expressions as Jesus confirmed He was born to be King.  Jesus was like no other king Pilate had ever met. Shackled, dressed as a pauper, hated by His own people (the Jews), Jesus didn't look like a king. That's why Jesus said to Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world." That statement doesn't mean the Kingdom of Christ has nothing to do with this world. On the contrary, Jesus came to be King of our lives, and His reign affects everything about us in this world. When Jesus said to Pilate, "My Kingdom is not of this world" He was clarifying for the quizzical Roman governor that, "My Kingdom is not like any kingdom of this world." Jesus Kingdom is different than the kingdoms of this world because Jesus is far different than any other king this world has ever seen. Jesus told his followers,  "The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21). When you come to faith in Christ, the Creator of the universe sets up His reign in your life. His Kingdom is different from earthly kingdoms in at least three primary ways.

(A). The world focuses on riches, but Christ focuses on relationships.  Peter said to the lame man: “Silver and gold have I none, but what I do have I give to you…” (Acts 3:6). Peter had the power of the Spirit of Christ living within him. Peter noticed the lame, the lost and the left behind!     Lee Grady, former editor of Charisma Magazine, wrote a piece after the death of Paul Crouch entitled Its Time to Reboot Christian Television. In it he writes,
“Prosperity preaching should not be allowed. It dishonors God and drags Christianity
down to a scam.”
Jesus was born in a stable and had “no place to lay his head” (Luke 9:58). His family was not prestigious. His hometown of Nazareth was not only not a royal city, it was so unimportant that it was said, “What good can come from Nazareth?” When Jesus was called “this man from Nazareth” it was with a sneer and heavy sarcasm. He was a King with no bling. Yet, He is the Creator God come to reign in the hearts of sinners in need of redemption.

“Veiled in flesh… (Man), The Godhead see… (God), Hail, the incarnate … (Man)… Deity! … (God).”

(B). The world focuses on pleasure, but Christ focuses on purpose. It truly is a purpose driven Kingdom. Every day you wake up you and I ought to ask ourselves, “What is the purpose of the King for me today?” It could be as simple as spending quality time with you kids. It could be making right a wrong done by you. Listening to the King and filling your life with purpose will always ultimately trump any pursuit of temporal pleasure, because...

(C). The world’s ways fail to satisfy, but Christ’s Way brings lasting satisfaction. Ironically, when you live as an ambassador for the King, you wind up finding the very thing the world seeks - genuine satisfaction. Solomon writes that the ways of the world lead to vanity (Ecclesiastes), but God’s reign in one's heart leads to real joy.
This past Sunday, as we focused on the importance of making Christ the King of one's life, I used illustrations that were applicable to evangelical Christians in the American south. "Ladies, when you go shopping, ask the King whether or not you should spend more than what you've budgeted. Gentlemen, when you have a business meeting and must discipline an employee, listen to the King and His wisdom as you represent Him at the office before men. Kids, every day you live, your thoughts ought to be on your King - for you are an ambassador of His at school, on the ball field, and among your circle of friends."
The applications of the principle of Christ's Kingship over us are fine, right? Well, maybe. Except that the applications were cultural, for me and for the people among whom I live. God was about to teach me that we Americans live in a cultural bubble.
After the message on the Kingship of Christ, I interviewed a new friend from Indonesia. Paulos, his lovely wife and their three children are in Enid for Christmas. Fifteen years ago Paulos and his wife felt led to start a Bible school on an island in Indonesia. One day he received a frantic call that 3,000 jihadists were marching toward his city to kill Christians. He fled with his family in the jungle, but over 1,000 people died who couldn't escape. While in the jungle he and his wife became separated from their four-year-old daughter. The separation was in its fourth hour when Paulos began praying to His King to help him find his daughter. As he walked and prayed on the jungle path, eyes closed, he fell down a steep bank into a river below. When he stood up he saw his daughter in the shallow portion of the river bank, bloodied and crying. As bombs exploded around them and the staccato of machine guns could be heard in the distance, Paulos carried his daughter up the river bank thanking Christ for her rescue.
From that day until now, Paulos has worked with HCJB radio to build radio stations on the thousands of islands that form Indonesia. On many of these islands, Paulos' stations are the only means of communication and the Indonesians hear the gospel of Jesus Christ from 5:00 a.m. to 12:00 midnight. Last August, going to the island where his 44th radio station had been built, 7,000 people showed up at a Christian rally announced via the station. 1,200 came to faith in Christ that day. Paulos shared with us that in the most recent Al Qaeda newsletter he is on the "hit list." The jihadists want Paulos dead.
I had this very weird feeling after preaching the message and then listening to Paulos that we Christians in America lack some perspective. When we consider the removal of Duck Dynasty from A&E a form of persecution we show we have little understanding of the true Kingdom. We American Christians cherish our personal comforts, our southern riches, and our enjoyable entertainments.  Our King, however, seems not as interested in these comfortable things as we are. We seem to have forgotten that our King rules with no bling.
What He does have is the power to save the lost, the supernatural ability to restore broken relationships, and the means necessary to turn cold, dead spiritual hearts into living souls that throb with real joy, independent of circumstances. I am grateful this Christmas that Christ came to be King of my life and that His Kingdom is nothing like the kingdoms of this world. May He give me the grace to grow in my perspective of what that really means.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Duck Dynasty and a New Television Network

The time has come for the establishment of a values based television network that promotes shows like Duck Dynasty and prohibits showmen that preach prosperity. My esteem for Charisma Magazine went through the roof last week when I read an opinion piece from Lee Grady entitled It's Time to Reboot Christian Television. Mr. Grady proposed that this "rebooting" means Christian television would be "supported through advertising, not donations." Amen.

The Internet and Twitter are on fire over Phil Robertson's removal from Duck Dynasty. The arguments are typical. We Christians are furious over A&E's removal of the 67-year-old star from the show for saying that homosexuality is "a sin." That the secular media and A&E called Phil Robertson's comment  "explosive" says more about the truncated and short-sighted historical knowledge of the secular media than it does Phil Robertson. Until a few years ago, homosexual behavior was illegal in America. Just because the government decriminalizes homosexual behavior doesn't mean homosexuality isn't a sin anymore. The government is not God nor vice-versa.

Yet, on the other hand, I would argue that A&E has every right to remove Phil Robertson from its hit television show. We Americans believe in free speech and free markets. Don't forget the latter. A&E is a for profit television network and has the right to operate freely according to their views of market profitability. That means just as we fight to secure free speech in America, we ought to fight for the right for A&E to do anything they want with their own shows. They must make a profit. Let them do what they believe is best.

Many will stop watching A&E. Many will stop supporting A&E shows. Many will write A&E letters. We should. That's how the free market works. Tell A&E you are upset. Make your voice known--but don't be surprised or angry if they respond like this: "We do not share your values, we do not believe it is appropriate to call homosexuality a sin, and we are the ones who make the decisions to ensure our network's profitability." Don't ever stop fighting for their right to tell you something different than you want to hear. That's market freedom and capitalism. It may be companies make stupid decisions, but in America companies should be free to be do so -- and remember, for profit companies only measure stupidity in terms of money, not morality.

Prove to A&E they are stupid in terms of their profitability.  It's time for people with moral values to do something. Start a television network that promotes excellence in broadcasting. Ban preachers from preaching "the prosperity gospel" which is a stain on Christianity because it demeans the gospel and reduces it to a scam. Prohibit anyone from even introducing the idea of a God-forsaken fund-raising telethon that equates what the television network is doing to the Kingdom of God. In my opinion, those filthy telethons take God's name in vain. His Kingdom is no more like Duck Dynasty than it is Project Runway. Don't mix the two. God's reign is within us, and it is high time gifted and talented Christians start a for profit network and charge advertising for fun shows like Duck Dynasty, family value-oriented sitcoms that are more geared to wholesome entertainment than crudeness, and variety shows that are both fun and relevant.  In other words, be the CBS, ABC, and NBC of the 1950's in terms of values, but be 2014 in terms of technology and methodology. Use Twitter, Facebook, marketing, creativity, and top-of-the-line professionalism to create something new and nascent instead of condemning something current and cultural.

FOX news did it when CNN began to broadcast from a world view and moral philosophy that represented a departure from historic American values. It's time for business men and women, writers and producers, and those in the broadcasting industry who have cherished historic Judeo-Christian moral values to step up to the plate and create.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Elegance Is Refusal: The Loss of Class in the West

Something bothered me about President Obama participating in taking a picture of himself and the female Prime Minister at Nelson Mandela's funeral in South Africa. I couldn't quite put my finger on it. I'm no fan of President Obama, but I'm also not one who desires to ridicule our President. I too am unconvinced Michelle Obama was upset with her husband for "flirting" with the Prime Minister as others have conjectured. Truthfully, nobody--including me--knows what was going on in the minds of those in that soccer stadium as the President of the United States, the Prime Ministers of Denmark and Great Britain, and Michelle Obama waited for the funeral of Mandela to conclude. We don't know what the President was thinking, nor do we know what the First Lady was feeling, not to mention the two Prime Ministers. For that reason, it is impossible to assign motives to any of them with complete accuracy.

What we do know is what the President and the Prime Ministers did. We observed their actions. Their deeds communicate much more than their thoughts. They took a selfie picture of themselves at Nelson Mandela's funeral.

After a few days of reflection, I realized what bothered me. These three leaders of the free world seem to possess no class. Class, according to the dictionary, can be defined as "stylish elegance." Coco Chanel once said, "Elegance is refusal." Class involves the ability to say no. President Obama and his two friends possessed no class when it came time to take a selfie.  They might plead ignorance to the fact that even pop culture considers selfies at funerals the height of distaste. What I find inexcusable is the absence of internal and personal systems of control within our western leaders that would lead them to resist the frivolous urge for a selfie.

Ronald Reagan, whether you agreed with his politics or not, was a President with class. He restrained himself in public. If stylish elegance is the ability to refuse then it must be said the photograph taken at Mandel's funeral was neither stylish, nor elegant, nor classy. Why the lack of class?

It's difficult to say. It is an axiom, however, that democratic leaders only reflect the character of her people. America seems to have lost it collective understanding of what it means to be a classy people.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Developing a Kingdom Mindset

I have a friend named Tim Price who lives in Omaha, Nebraska. Tim is a writer and a publisher. He is one of those rare persons who studies the Scriptures not because he is paid to do so, but simply because he has a consuming desire to know God's Word for himself. Tim is the author of The Diluted Church and he blogs at Kingdom Citizenship.

Recently, Tim wrote one of the finest blog posts I have ever read on the subject of the Kingdom of God.  Our Identity -- Who Are We Really? is an article that posits what I've longed believed. Many modern evangelicals see the gospel as simply believing in Christ for the forgiveness of sins. Tim writes:
"One aspect of God’s kingdom deals with who we are as Christ’s followers and where our loyalty, identity and belonging rest… Over the years I’ve heard lots of teaching about our identity in Christ. Notions like we are, “God’s workmanship,” “the Redeemed of God,” or “sons of God.” While I’m not in protest of these articulations; I find them either ethereal or vague in practicum… I am sure most of these ideals are well meant. However, I do not see a direct link to their meaning within the context of the Kingdom of God as the subject on which Christ taught most. Therein is the problem."
Tim goes on to explain who we are in the Kingdom of God in terms of this present world (read his full post). If modern evangelicalism does not comprehend how being a member of the Kingdom of God affects everything in the believer's life, then "we will spiritualize the teaching of scripture ... Truth becomes ethereal and vague (and only has) an emotional, personal and individual sentimental value (when) it is divorced from the kingdom of God as a now-reality. Without the Kingdom of God we can settle back into the world, because truth is only a belief-in-a-belief instead of a dynamic that contrasts the world through a competitive reality."

Good stuff, Tim. May our enjoyment of the Kingdom of God in the here and now be deepened in all of us.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

When You Feel God Doesn't Hear, Examine the Ear

There is no greater pain than when we hurt, plead with God for relief, and find heaven remaining quiet. Though it is difficult to comprehend the soul searing ache that comes from watching a loved one die from disease, that ache is far greater when we beg God for mercy during the dying process and find Him seemingly silent. Let's be honest. As Christians, there is no more bitter experience than facing a monumental trial that seems destined to do us in, and when we ask God for relief, He seems deaf to our cries. As adopted children of the King, nothing is scarier or more disconcerting than to believe the Throne Room is locked, keeping Him from hearing us in our time of need.  All of us have been there. There are those days when God seems not to hear.

When that feeling arrives next time, examine the ear. Take a gander at it. Do a little research and discover the delicate intricacies of this amazing human instrument. It takes more faith to believe your ear evolved from amoebas than it does God created it in your mother's womb. God fashioned the human ear, and through it you hear the world around you. The ear is so precise, so beautiful, so profound, so breathtaking that Charles Spurgeon once said (Metropolitan Series, vol. 35, p. 66):
"An aurist who explained to you the mechanism of the ear should make you feel that an undevout aurist is mad."
I agree with Mr. Spurgeon. No man can examine the ear and explain its intricacies and not be a devout believer in God. But more importantly, every Christian who has a working knowledge of the ear should receive tremendous encouragement that God hears our pleas and our prayers on all occasions and at all times. Listen to the Psalmist's words: 
"He who planted the ear, does He not hear?" (Psalm 94:9 NAS).
Great question, is it not? In fact, you can almost hear the irony in the words of the Psalmist. The word translated "planted" is a Hebrew word used throughout the Old Testament to speak of God's activity in creation. He created your ear. He planted it. He that designed and created your ear, do you not think He can hear?

In Psalm 94 God's people have been crying out in agony because "the wicked were triumphing" (v. 3). Those who were committing evil were saying "hard things" against God's people (v. 4). They "break in pieces the people of God" (v. 5), and they even afflict the poor, defenseless and fatherless (v. 6). "How long?" God's people cry, "How long?" The Psalmist response to the petitions of God's people is a clear cut path to encouragement and comfort for those of us who wonder if God hears us when we plead for mercy in our time of need.
God planted (created) your ear. He, above all others, always hears everything. He will respond to my pleas. In due time, God will "rise up for me" (v. 16). The Lord "will be my help" (v. 17). "Thy mercy, O Lord, holds me up when I slip" (v. 18). "The Lord is my defense" (v. 22). Take comfort my soul. My King is on His throne and He hears me.
The ancients had a subtitle to Psalm 94 that went along these lines: "The Psalm to be sung on the fourth day of the week." The fourth day of the week is what we call Wednesday, or Hump Day.

Psalm 94 is a proven encouragement for any hump day in our lives. Next time we doubt God hears our prayers, we ought to study closely the human ear. "He who  planted the ear, does He not hear?" (Psalm 94:9). In His time, in just the right time, God will rise up for you and be your defense.
He hears.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

The Ethical Dilemma and Moral Justification for Treating One's Enemies Differently According to One's Kingdom Purpose

It is an axiom that evil exists in this world. However, we who claim allegiance to Jesus Christ find it disconcerting that evil exists within Christendom too. Our belief system tells us that God "has delivered us from the domain of evil and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son" (Colossians 1:13). We are surprised when we see Christians act in evil ways because the essence of biblical Christianity is our transfer from the domain (reign) of evil to the domain (reign) of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ isn't evil, and one can't truly be in His Kingdom while at the same time delighting in living under the dominion of evil. To put it another way, it's impossible to love Christ and enjoy harming people for personal gain (I John 4:20). Evil doers are enemies to Christ and His people. It matters not that the evil doer proclaims to be a Christian; those who do evil are the enemies of Christ's Kingdom. The subject of this post is the answer to the question, "How should a Christian treat one's enemies?" The answer to this question is not nearly as simple as one might think.

Evil is not a nebulous, unidentifiable thing. Augustine wrote that evil is simply "the absence of good." However,  Scripture clearly distinguishes between passive evil and active evil. For example, ignorance is evil, but ignorance is a passive evil until it becomes the result of sloth and intentional neglect, two active evils. A corporation will fire a worker who is slothful and negligent, but it will train a worker who is simply ignorant. When evil becomes active,  justice must be pursued. Active evil is best described as "the pursuit of personal profit or pleasure by intentionally taking from or harming another human being."  God doesn't punish "evil." He punishes the evil doer. Active evil is committed by persons. Scripture does not separate evil from those who commit it.  Proverbs 7:11-12 declares:
"(11) God is a just judge, and God is angry with the wicked every day.  (12) If he does not turn back, He will sharpen His sword (of justice)."
Note two things about the above verse: (1). It is the person with whom God is angry, and (2). A person's lack of repentance from evil sharpens the sword of God's justice. That means the fall of the wicked is often quick and decisive. Moses said of the wicked one, "his foot shall slide in due time" (Deut. 32:35). When active evil occurs over a long period of time, God is simply sharpening His sword of justice.   When justice occurs in due time, it comes swiftly, like the fall of a person who "slips" off a cliff, or like spider web which suddenly breaks over an open flame, plunging the spider into the fire (Jonathan Edwards).

Jesus the Messiah came to save the evil person from his evil (Matthew 1:21). Jesus is the greatest Interventionist who has ever lived (Matthew 18:11). He takes a selfish and self-absorbed person who is capable of the grossest evil, loves him, pursues him, and then turns him into an unselfish, others-oriented person who possesses and cherishes the values of Christ and His Kingdom. These values include love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. 

Therefore, a professing Christian who takes from or harms another human being is a contradiction to the essence of Christianity and a shock to all who name Christ as their King. Disgust, anger, and moral repulsion are all appropriate feelings toward evil perpetrated against other people, particularly when that evil is committed by one professing faith in Christ. When a person actively, intentionally, and repeatedly takes from and harms other human beings, the sword of justice must be sharpened.

It is self-evident that there are different degrees of active evil. What is not so obvious is that people often do not see evil within themselves. Even the most elegant and fashion forward human being can possess a heart that revels in one's own pleasure at the expense of anothers' pain. When a culture loses disgust over active evil it will eventually collapse under the weight of its own destructiveness. Heather Pringle, in her fascinating book The Master Plan, reveals how Hedwig Potthast, the mistress of Heinrich Himmler, once proudly showed her house furniture to a close friend, pointing out:
"...the chair made from the polished bones of a human pelvic girdle, and another made from human legs and human feet."
Then Miss Potthast -
"...picked up a copy of Mein Kampf, explaining 'clinically and medically' that its cover was made from human skin" (Kindle Edition, pages 4369-4376).
Though the friend of Miss Potthast had known her for years, and though she had been in Miss Potthast's home several times, the friend had never known how evil Miss Potthast really was. It wasn't that evil one day came to Miss Potthast as much as it was that evil resided in Miss Potthast. Yet her friend didn't see it for years. The elegant trappings of the mistress' house covered the sore in her core. Only after exposure of how human beings were being harmed for the advancement of Miss Potthast's personal comfort did Miss Potthast's friend leave the house retching over the evil within.

Though the story of Miss Potthast and her friend is true, I would like to use it as an allegory for my evangelical friends who are bothered by evil within religious organizations. For much of the twentieth century, Christians worshipped together in systems of organizational structure that seemed to run efficiently. We worshipped God, served others, and trusted our religious leaders, never asking questions about the church's polished furniture. Since the rise of the Internet, God's people have found their voice, and things church leaders once proudly displayed for the praise of others (massive buildings, growing budgets, pastor book deals, and celebrity mega-ministries) are now being revealed by many as objects of personal, celebrity kingdoms built on the exploitation and harm of God's people. We Christians have been shocked at the evil we see in Christendom today.

How do we who love Christ respond to evil in this world? Even more, what is the appropriate
response to evil within religious institutions and faith organizations? 

Two very dear friends of mine lead a ministry called Wartburg Watch. Dee and Deb are  MBA's who have given of their time and energy, not to mention their incredible writing skills, to provide a safe reading environment for wounded Christians to heal. They have come under a great deal of abuse and name calling by leaders in religious movements because of their efforts to defend those Christians who've been wounded by religious leaders. These two women are unafraid to confront evil, and they have personally helped hundreds of people who have been harmed by abusive religious leaders who perpetrate evil for personal gain. In an enlightening and interesting discussion on one of their recent blogs, I engaged with some of my wounded brothers and sisters in Christ, encouraging all of us to continue to confront evil, but to avoid evil ourselves. I wrote:
I think we who’ve been muzzled and have found our voice, we who've been mistreated and now find ourselves on the right side of justice, we who can breathe out the collective expression ‘at last,' should do everything in our power to ensure we do not become joyful and celebratory in finding fault in the body of Christ. Rather, we ought to be saddened with the displays of grotesque and twisted contortions by our evangelical leaders, and we should remain resolute in confronting evil while not celebrating its presence or the downfall of our evangelical leaders.
One of the commentators at Wartburg, Patrice, responded to my comments with questions of her own. She wrote:
"I’d like to hear how else we might righteously respond to exposures of long-hidden evil, especially in light of the Psalms, where (God’s people) openly delighted in the enemies’ losses.  What does it mean to give the evil-doer the respect of his humanity while also rejoicing when he falls by exposure of his actions? How does that parcel out on comment threads?  And I would enjoy a discussion about how and where we (Christians) are to apply the different approaches to our enemies: “turn your cheek” and “forgive seventy times seven” versus “leaving family,” “dividing the truth,” “knocking over money-changer’s tables,” etc…”
The following is for Patrice and all other Christians with similar questions.

Government Rules Regarding the Treatment of Evil Doers

Jesus Christ distinguished between two kinds of kingdoms.

(1). There are kingdoms "of this world" (i.e. 'governments').
(2). There is the Kingdom of Christ which is "not of this world."

Jesus said to Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:37 ). The phrase "not of this world" is often misunderstood. Some Christians wrongly think it means Christ's kingdom does not pertain to anything I do in this world. Not so. The Kingdom of Christ affects every area of  my life and pertains to everything in my life! What Jesus is saying is His kingdom is not patterned after the kingdoms around us. So, again, there are two kinds (or categories) of kingdoms: the kingdoms of this world and the Kingdom of Christ.

The first category, kingdoms of this world, includes every earthly reign of human government throughout the history of nations. From the ancient Assyrians to the modern Chinese, from ancient Greece to today's Turkey, from Hannibal's Carthage to Eisenhower's America, the governments of this world are designed to protect those who do good and punish those who do evil.

According to Romans 13, every human being has an allegiance to one of these governments. Each person is born "under' the dominion of an earthly kingdom and "subject to it" (Romans 13:1). Regardless of the form  (i.e. democracy, monarchy, republic, dictatorship, etc...), each government is called in Scripture "a minister of God." The appropriate ministry of government, however, is a ministry of justice, not mercy.
"If you do what is evil, be afraid; for government does not bear the sword (of justice) for nothing; it (government) is a minister of God, an avenger who brings punishment on the one who practices evil" (Romans 13:5).
Governments ought to punish those who practice evil for the good of others. Though justice does harm to evil-doers (imprisonment, isolation, death), all equitable punishment dispensed by the world's kingdoms occurs for the righteous purpose of preventing evil-doers from perpetrating future harm against others.

 When the Scripture says God "takes no pleasure in the death (punishment) of the wicked" (Ezekiel 18:32) it affirms that God takes no joy, no glee, no pleasure in the act of punishment. God makes no celebration, possesses no happiness, and experiences no delight in the equitable punishment of any evil doer. This principle is one of the reasons I wrote that Americans should not celebrate the death of Osama Ben Laden. Seek him out. Bring him to justice. Kill him, but be sad over the need to have to take the life of a human being because of the presence of evil in that life. Judgment is a grim necessity, not a celebratory party.

A righteous government is one that displays this character attribute of solemnity during judgment. When a government partakes in a harmful action of punishing evil doers through bombing, war, espionage, and the like, one of the most accurate measures of whether or not the actions of that government are righteous is the solemnity and seriousness during the killing of others. When terrorists celebrate the death of another human being, it is the tell-tale sign that God is not on their side. When Nazi's joked and made fun of the Jews they sent to the gas chambers, it was a sign of resident evil and that the innocent were being murdered.

God never takes pleasure in the punishment of the wicked and neither do civilized people whose character reflects the good character of God. When a nation must partake in the righteous act of inflicting harm on evil doers in order to prevent future harm by those same evil doers against other human beings, there should be sadness. This is the concept of just war. This solemn sadness should particularly prevail within the hearts of evangelical Christians when we see justice applied in the bringing down of non-profits and ministries led by those who have covered-up acts of evil over long periods of time.  No celebration. No joy. Only sadness. Approval of the act of of justice, yes; but dancing in the streets, no.

Scripture reveals the authority to punish evil doers is in the hands of God alone. " Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY," says the Lord" (Romans 12:19). However, God delegates authority to earthly kingdoms to impart judicial punishment for evil done, calling this governmental practice of punishing evil doers "the sword of justice" (Romans 13:5). Augustine points out that when a Christian acts as an agent of an earthly kingdom (ie. a soldier, a judge, or a peace officer), he may put to death an evil doer and not violate God's command "thou shalt not murder." Augustine writes in City of God:
"They who have waged war ... (who) have represented in their persons the public justice or the wisdom of government, and in this capacity have put to death wicked men; such persons have by no means violated the commandment, 'Thou shalt not kill.'"
When in the course of human history, an earthly kingdom or government begins to practice evil by infringing on the basic liberties of the governed, then it is incumbent and obligatory on the people to overthrow their earthly kingdom for the sake of the protection of human life and individual liberty. Our own Declaration of Independence puts it this way:
"Whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends (of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness), it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it and to institute new government.... Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes,,, But when a long train of abuses and usurpations... reduces (the people) under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security."
It is therefore entirely within the mandates of biblical Christianity to work as an agent for one's government and be an instrument of justice, punishing the evil doer through war or other retributive acts of justice. Further, it is entirely within the rights, and possibly even falls under one's moral obligation as a Christian, to participate in the overthrow of a despotic government that intentional harms its citizens, as Dietrich Bohnoeffer sought to do in Germany in 1945, and American pastors sought to do in colonial America during the Revolutionary War.

Christians may fight just wars in this world as agents of government because Christians are to be subject to the human kingdom under which they live. This world's kingdoms exist as "ministers of God" to secure individual liberties and protect human life. Evil doers who steal liberties from people and take human life are to be punished for the good of this world as a whole. But again, when Christians act as agents of justice under the dominion of human kingdoms, there ought never be any celebration over the presence of evil or the necessary destruction of evil doers' lives or property. It is a solemn thing to punish those who commit evil.

Christ's Kingdom Rules for the Treatment of  One's Enemies

When God condescended to earth as Man, born in Bethlehem, He inaugurated His Kingdom, a different kind of kingdom than the world's dominions of rule. Jesus said, "for this reason (to be King) I was born" (John 18:37). Jesus went from city to city proclaiming "Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 4:17). The word "kingdom" in English is a compound word - King and Dominion - Kingdom.

A great deal of utter confusion takes place when Christians misunderstand the nature of the Kingdom of Christ. Preachers try to make you think their ministries are His Kingdom. Nothing could be further from the truth. Televangelists seek to convince you that if you give to their non-profit you are "giving to the Kingdom of God." Not true. You are giving to a non-profit. One would hope that every church and every ministry is working to advance the Kingdom of God, but ministries, church corporations and non-profits are NOT the Kingdom of God. The worst mistake we make as New Covenant Christians is misidentifying the domain of Jesus Christ. He was born in Bethlehem to be King. Where is His domain?

Jesus told his disciples in Luke 17:21 that "the Kingdom of God is within you." There is coming a day when the Kingdom of God will be around you (heaven on earth), but until then, during the time "His enemies are (being) made His footstool," the Kingdom of God is within you.

Remember, the Kingdom of God is of a different character than the kingdoms of this world.  There are so many ways that Christ's Kingdom is different from the kingdoms of this world, but the main point Christ is making to His disciples is this: What is inside of you (i.e. "the Kingdom of God") is of a different character than the kingdoms around you ("the governments of this world").

When it comes to how an evil doer personally treats me, there are specific ways that "Christ in me" tells me to my enemy (i.e. the "evil doer" who perpetrates evil against me) as compared to how the kingdoms of this world SHOULD treat an evil doer. Listen to these Kingdom instructions:

"Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also" (Matthew 5:39).
"Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God" (Romans 12:19).
"Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles" (Proverbs 21:19).
"But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you" (Luke 6:27). 
"Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times " (Matthew 18:21-22).

It is incumbent upon all of us who name Christ as Lord to realize that the greatest moral authority and effectual means to prevent evil from being perpetrated on others is the ability to overlook the evil done that is done to me. Or, let me put it this way, when the pain in my life is healed by the Balm of Gilead, then I can easily confront evil in this world for the sake of others, and not my own gain.

When the act of confronting evil is borne out of a desire for personal gain (healing), then the confrontation itself is in danger of becoming actively evil by seeking to take from or harm another human being for one's personal profit and pleasure. When I write about or confront evil out of my pain, I often do things that are unwise. I find myself in danger of developing a spirit or temperament similar to the self-righteous spirit of my abuser. Such struggles within often lead to celebrations when other people find themselves in loss or pain. This is a very subtle problem, but it is a very prevalent one, even within Christianity. Often, the abused becomes like his or her abuser. This ought not be in the Kingdom of Christ.

Here are some reflections on how Christians should respond to our enemies, including our own religious leaders, when they perpetrate evil against others:

(1). If an evil action is perpetrated against me personally I will display the fruit of the Spirit and never take personal vengeance on the evil doer, but will love him, confront him and hold him accountable for his sake and the sake of others who may be similarly abused as I. If a crime has been committed I will report for the good of society as a whole, while acknowledging the reign of Christ in my life and being willing forgive he who has wounded me.

(2). If an evil action is perpetrated against a person I know or love, I will do everything in my power to expose and to correct the wrong because of my obligation to love and serve others in their time of need. If a crime is committed, I will report it. If a person is bullied or silenced and otherwise has liberties stolen, I will defend the person encroached upon. I will protect and defend the vulnerable and defenseless, but I will always encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ who've been wronged to look to Christ for their healing and work toward justice for the sake of others.

(3). All the time I am confronting evil, I will never take a disposition of delight and glee in the downfall of evil doers. In fact, I will take no pleasure in the punishment of the wicked, just as my God does not, but I will be steadfast in my confrontation of evil in a desire to quench it for the good of others.

(4). I will always keep in mind that the government under which I am subject is of a different nature than the eternal Kingdom of Christ to which I belong. I will never confuse the two. I will never act as if my state, my nation, or my church is the Kingdom of Christ or vice-versa.

(5). To the extent that I allow my heart to take delight in personal vengeance I have lost my vision regarding the value of belonging to the Kingdom of Christ and waiting for the Day of Vengeance when He shall properly, accurately, and wisely make all things right.

I am not sure that this long and arduous post makes much sense to anyone else besides me, but after writing it, I am even more resolved to love my enemies personally. I will choose to overlook sins against me, but I will never turn a blind eye toward evil committed against others. In my help of those who have been wounded by acts of evil,  I will remind the wounded that only the reign of Jesus Christ in their lives will bring true healing to them. To any extent they seek personal vengeance on those who have wronged them, they have misplaced their trust. My Kingdom purpose is to expose truth and confront evil for the sake of good in this world, but I will give love and grace to those who have wronged me as a demonstration to the evil doer of the deep and profound truth that it was my evil that wounded Christ, and yet God forgave me. It is the love of God that led me to repentance of my evil.

In summary: I must strive as a Christian to be an agent of justice for the good of others in this world temporarily, but when it comes to wrongs against me personally, I will always and only seek to be an agent of grace for my King eternally.

My God grant me the grace to love people the way He loves me.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

America to Iran: Free Pastor Saeed!

                Sign the International Petition Asking Iran to Free American Pastor Saeed Here!

                Read the full story of the imprisonment and persecution of Pastor Saeed here.

Elf on a Shelf, Naughty and Nice, and the Gospel of Grace

A writer is always hesitant to swim upstream against the swift river of cultural phenomenon, but if souls are actually drowning in their own self-absorption, its worth the effort. The Elf on the Shelf is a morality game played by schools, families and communities that is surging in popularity. The game encourages families or classrooms to adopt little "elves" that sit on kids "shelves" and watch over them to determine if they are being "naughty or nice." After a period of intense scrutiny--usually from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve--the little elf flies off the shelf to the North Pole to report to Santa on whether or not the kid is worthy of the "wish list" of gifts the child has drawn up for Christmas. It would seem that those involved in this morality game should be commended for teaching kids about the benefits of doing what is right and avoiding what is wrong, but let's take a closer look.

Pagan cultures have always resorted to teaching their children morality through fairy tales. The Greeks had Aesop and his fables. The Romans had their Nova Roma (the Roman Way) and the fables of their gods that illustrated morality. 20th century America has her Elf on the Shelf. The morality fables we share and the goodness games we prepare are not intrinsically evil; they are simply devoid of substance. It's like a carpenter spending his holiday workdays preparing tables using particle board. The end product will collapse. One might be able to create an appearance of morality through teaching kids the legend of the Elf on the Shelf, but in the end, the soul of that child will have no real cure. It would seem to me that parents and educators would be far wiser investing their time in healing the core rather than covering the sore.

How does a child find healing at Christmas from all those things that lead him to do wrong in this life? Answer: The love of God. Only the gospel of God's grace in Jesus Christ brings healing to the soul at Christmas.  Only when kids understand that their Creator loves them enough to send His Son to Bethlehem to not only forgive their wrongs, but to become King of their lives today will kids ever have an answer for the shame within them and the future in front of them. When Pilate looked at the shackled Jesus standing in front of him he said, "So then you are a king!" Jesus responded, "You have said this correctly! For this reason I have been born... (John 18:37).

So how do you teach kids the real reason for morality? How do you teach them that their Creator is their eternal King and worthy of their allegiance in response to His love, His grace, and His mercy demonstrated at Christmas? One answer of many: Play a few old fashioned Christmas carols and teach kids their meaning. For example Hark the Herald Angels Sing:

Christ, by highest heav’n adored, Christ, the everlasting Lord, … (God)
Late in time behold Him come, Offspring of a Virgin’s womb. … (Man)
Veiled in flesh … (Man)
The Godhead see … (God),
Hail, the incarnate … (Man)
Deity! … (God)
Pleased as Man with man to dwell; … (Man)
Jesus, (Man) our Immanuel! … (God)
This carol teaches in the second verse what gifts Jesus brings to earth through His birth:

Light and life to all He brings,
Risen with healing in His wings.
Mild, He leaves His throne on high,
Born that man no more may die;
Born to raise the sons of earth;
Born to give them second birth

Some might say, "But why would we teach children that God became Man at Bethlehem? This concept is too difficult to comprehend?"

It's no more difficult for kids to learn and grasp the Incarnation of God, the Deity of Christ, the light and life He brings, and that the real reason for morality is "He is our King" than it is for children to learn about the North Pole, the elf on the shelf, wish lists, Santa, and their names being on the Naughty and Nice List. In fact, the effort needed to teach both seems to be the same. The difference is the substance of what is being taught; one is hollow like particle board and the other is of substance like oak.

There are many good things that can be said about any teacher, any parent, and any adult that takes the time and effort to encourage children to live moral, good lives during the Christmas season. The point of this post is to arrest the attention of that young parent who is interested in the moral condition of their child's soul and willing to invest time in teaching them about doing good and living right. Invest your time in teaching your kids about Christ at Christmas and their morality will stand the test of time,  for their allegiance will be to their eternal, living King and not some little elf on their shelf.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Russ Moore, Women, and Preaching a False Gospel

In light of the report that Dr. Russ Moore made a proclamation that egalitarians preach "a false gospel," I decided to publish an updated post from few years ago. I respect Dr. Moore (pictured left), the head of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission,  but I sometimes feel his biblical views on gender are the result of teaching given to him by rote in seminary rather than learning obtained by him through research in his study.  It is obvious through casual reading of the Bible--much less concentrated research--that Jesus Christ treats men and women as equals, a behavior that was contrary to the views and practices  of Jews in the Old Covenant. However, regardless of one's biblical understanding of gender, to say that people who disagree with you on the subject are preaching a false gospel is a foolish assessment. It is certain that sinners are saved by the work and Person of Jesus Christ, not their views on the equality of men and women in the church and the home.

Charles Spurgeon began a message on the text "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins" (Hebrews 9:22) with an illustration of three fools. The first fool, Spurgeon said, is the ship's captain who goes below deck during a ferocious storm to read an encyclopedia on the nature of Atlantic winds rather than fighting to keep his ship afloat.  The second fool is the wounded soldier on the battlefield who asks the arriving medic all kinds of questions about the size, shape and model of the gun that fired the bullet which wounded the soldier rather than asking the physician if his is able to heal him. The third fool is the religious person who is constantly arguing the subtle philosophical questions about the origin and nature of evil while ignoring the clear and certain truth that Christ's blood is able to cleanse his sins (Hebrews 9:14). Spurgeon said all three fools have one thing in common: They trifle with subtleties while they ignore certainties.

I would cautiously add a fourth person to Spurgeon's list. It is that Christian leader who turns the gospel of Jesus Christ into a gender gospel, arguing that unless you hold to his (or her) views on the equality of the genders, then you preach a "false gospel." Last week reporter Bob Allen of the Associated Baptist Press reported gave a summary on an interview that Dr. Russ Moore gave to Mark Dever of 9Marks Ministries. In the interview, Dr. Moore says egalitarian couples “preach a false gospel” by viewing men and women as equal partners in marriage. He says:

“God designed us in such a way where we learn about him through family relationships... We learn about the nature of reality in family relationships, and in terms of what it means to image God, by being faithful fathers and husbands and mothers and wives... Often, I think, the gospel is obscured because God has designed a picture of the gospel in the one-flesh union of husband and wife...When that is broken down, you have a false gospel that is being preached.”
I am accustomed to hearing such interpretations of Scripture from fellow Bible-believing pastors and theologians and have sharply disagreed with them. That doesn't mean those with whom I disagree do not believe the gospel. I have heard men who hold to Moore's views make the following summary statement:  God's design is for men to serve and lead and women to receive and support. Those who wish to base fidelity to the gospel on such gender beliefs are in danger of doing what Spurgeon calls "trifling with subtleties while ignoring certainties." They so concentrate on a non-essential of the faith they turn that non-essential matter into a measuring stick of faithful gospel preaching.

The Absurdity of Making the Gospel About Gender

The overwhelming New Testament teaching of the Bible regarding men and women in the church is clear and certain--"gender differences are irrelevant in the church of Jesus Christ."  God's people in the New Covenant are called to serve based upon the giftings given to them by the Holy Spirit. "I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy" (Acts 2:17). The Apostle Paul says in Galatians 3:27-28 that "All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Paul is emphatic that there is no room in the body of Jesus Christ for racial distinctions, no room for class distinctions, no room for gender distinctions. You may disagree with this assessment, but to make faithful gospel preaching hinge on agreement with your views on gender is utter foolishness.
Further, those men who refuse a woman to serve, read, lead, or teach (when men are present) seem to be twisting the gospel of freedom in Christ into a gospel of bondage by gender. To restrict a Holy Spirit gifted and empowered woman from edifying other believers through the free exercise of her Spirit given gifts seems to be resistance of the Holy Spirit Himself.  I will never forget when Condoleezza Rice, our 66th United States Secretary of State, spoke to the annual Southern Baptist Convention in 2006. The audience, predominately Southern Baptist men, stood and applauded when Condoleezza explained how we had bombed the Taliban terrorists in Bora Bora to hell. Thank the Lord she didn't actually read a Scripture text about hell. No telling what the some pastors might have done had such a blasphemy occurred in their presence. Christian men should be on the forefront of leading women to see their value in the world, but especially in the body of Christ. Some of the most gifted leaders, teachers, and role models in the church are women!

An ancient Jewish prayer from the Hebrew Siddur (prayer book) went like this: "Blessed are you, Hashem, King of the Universe, for not having made me a Gentile. Blessed are you, Hashem, King of the Universe, for not having made me a slave. Blessed are you, Hashem, King of the Universe, for not having made me a woman." "Hashem" was a Jewish name for the one true God, a name used by Jews in the days of Christ. The same spirit ancient Jews possessed that caused them to believe that only men were created to lead, rule and serve and that women were born to receive, follow and and be there for men, is the same spirit now at work in more than a few evangelical leaders. Interestingly, the rise of the Siddur coincides with the glory of God departing the Temple of Jerusalem in the days of Ezekiel (see Ezekiel 10). Jewish Temple worship continued, but it was during this Spirit-less intertestamentable time period that you have the rise of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and other male only Jewish orders that were constantly focusing on male "authority," male "leadership," and male "power." A preoccupation and fixation on authority (whether it be conservative patriarchalism or liberal feminism), is a sign that the Spirit of God has departed. Jesus Christ explicitly forbids any one individual assuming authority over other adults in the Christian community (Matthew 20:20-28).  In fact, after describing the imperialism of political rulers and the authority fixation of religious rulers, Jesus said to his disciples ... "It shall not be so among you" (Matthew 20:28).

The New Testament covenant of God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ totally turns the world's concept of authority on its ear. The world is concerned about position, power, authority, prestige, control, and ruling over others. Jesus Christ teaches His followers to serve, to love, to express their spiritual gifts to their fullest for the good of others, and to never fear what any person in so-called "authority" can do to them because "All authority ... has been given to Me" (Matthew 28:20). There is to be a mutual equality, respect, and submission within the home between husband and wife (Ephesians 5:21-33). There is to be a mutual equality, respect and submission of men and women toward one another in the body of Christ based upon the gifts that the Spirit gives to each male and female believer who has been baptized into Christ (Acts 2:15-21; Galatians 3:28). References to the churches' teaching ministry and other gifts are found in Romans 12, I Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4 and not one of those passages excludes females from being recepients of any one of those gifts. Let me say that again in a different way. The gifts of the Spirit are never differentiated on the basis of gender in the New Testament -- ever.

But What About Paul's Teaching in I Timothy 2:11-12?

Any student of the Word who reads Paul's Timothy text and draws a conclusion that is contrary to the clear and certain teaching of the rest of the Bible, including Paul's other writings, is playing the fool by "trifling with subtleties while ignoring certainties." "But," you shout, "These two verses tell all women everywhere to be "silent" in the presence of men, and to "learn" in "submission" under them." No, kind sir, they don't. Not even close. Were that the case, these two verses would contradict everything the Apostle Paul has written in Galatians, Romans, I Corinthians, Ephesians and every other book he contributed to the New Testament, not to mention all the other books written by Peter, John, Luke, Matthew, and other early disciples of Christ. I have written a foreword to a book entitled What's With Paul and Women and would encourage you to take an afternoon to read Jon Zen's book, a detailed exposition and exegesis of these two Timothy verses. You will never again resist speaking out when you hear gender gospel preachers resist the Holy Spirit and restrict women in the home or the church by claiming for themselves ungodly positions of power and authority.

One of the advantages of being the pastor of a New Testament church where the Word of God is respected, believed, and practiced is that both men and women lead, serve, teach, and shepherd based upon their gifts. We believe the concept of positions of power and authority held by "elders" is foreign to the New Testament. The word elder means "older." Look to your elders for wisdom. Again, the notion of some raw authority in an office of pastor or elder is foreign to the New Testament. Every believer in Christ is a priest.  Our church has a Leadership Team composed of both men and women. I am a pastor, but there is no inherent spiritual authority in me or any "office" I hold. Jesus Christ alone is the spiritual authority over his people. I serve people. I love people. I lead people only if they are willing to follow--and frankly, if I do a poor job of serving and loving, they ought not follow. One of these days the church of Jesus Christ is going to wake up to the fact that we have so twisted and corrupted the concept of authority and leadership that what we have abandoned the clear and certain teachings of the New Testament.

The ancient Jews kept women in the courtyard and placed a fence around the Temple grounds lest a woman feel compelled to enter the Holy Place. The sacred rituals were performed by male priests. The sacred services were led by male priests. Modern day conservative evangelicals and liberal feminists have absolutely violated the clear and certain teachings of Jesus Christ and seem to wish to resurrect the Old economy of Temple buildings, gender priesthoods, and religious rituals. Jesus abolished all that Old economy stuff in the New agreement. The Temple of God is no longer a building, it is the soul of a believer (see I Corinthians 6:19). The priests of God are no longer just male, they are both male and female (see Galatians 3:28). The rituals of God are no longer holy days, sacrifices, and feasts, but faith in Christ and love for God and our fellow man (see Colossians 2:16; John 13:3). The body of Jesus Christ is to make no distinctions in race, class and gender. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a gospel that sets the captives free to serve as the Holy Spirit gifts. To revoke the privilege of a gifted, believing woman from reading Scripture to men is to violate the clear and certain teaching of the New Testament and risk having the legalism and religious ritualism of Spirit-less religion that marked Temple worship after the days of Ezekiel and before the launch of the New Covenant. If conservative, Bible-believing, Christ-loving, Spirit-filled, graced people do not speak out when our conservative brothers move into error on this issue, then we become enablers of God's people as they turn the powerful gospel of grace into an impotent gospel of gender. God forbid that we continue to trifle with subtleties while we ignore certainties.